World Mental Health Day is observed on October 10, since 1992. The initiative comes from the World Federation for Mental Health. This day is essentially intended to draw attention to mental wellbeing, with a view of raising awareness on issues related to mental health, and with an aim of mobilising efforts in support of mental health.
A few articles ago, we addressed suicide in our generation as one of the tells of mental health. The piece, “And Sometimes Taking up Space Hurts”, addressed the statistics of suicide in Botswana, and looks at how and why youth between 18 and 40 are the most affected by suicide. This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day was “Youth and Mental Health in a Changing World.”
The World Health Organisation has stated that there are many different mental health disorders with different presentations. These are usually characterised by a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others. One of the keys to preventing mental health disorders and alleviate the suffering caused by them is access to health care and social services that can provide treatment and social support. This is largely absent in Botswana, with few pockets of good Samaritans.
We exist in a world where we are constantly battling the effects of human rights violations. We are subjects of violence in our various spaces of existence. We are watching wars break out around us, with no real reform. We are finding ourselves under so much pressure. We are feeling overwhelmed, underachieved, and helpless. Sometimes, we are angry.
Or sad. Or extremely fearful. At times we have the highest energy levels, and we seem happy. Other times, we are so low. We are constantly exhausted. So many of us find ourselves abusing substances, and overeating, or not eating nearly enough. These are only few of the stated symptoms of mental illness. It doesn’t take the same form for everyone. But one thing we all agree on, is that the world can definitely be a little kinder.
This piece is an invitation to check in with yourself and those around you. To take a moment to explore what we can actively and practically do. The rest of this piece will focus on practical things to do, for those of us who are supporting a loved one living with mental illness.
Lorato Modongo, a Motswana Social Psychologist and feminist, says there is so much that we can all do to deal with and assist with healthily coping with various illnesses in this regard. However, if we were to break it down into two practical things we can all do, they are as follows:
1. Be aware
More broadly, as a people, there is need to be more knowledgeable on mental illness, to as to alleviate stigma and to encourage the development of a more positive attitude towards those of us living with any form of mental illness. Awareness is a great part in behavioural change.
Modongo says, “there are profound psychological issues affecting young people as they transition at various points in their lives, usually with little to no support in navigating the very demanding spaces, and developing healthy coping mechanisms. It is important to raise as much awareness as possible, so that young people and the support system can recognise the growing threat of mental health challenges. We need to consciously eliminate stigma surrounding MHI, develop empathy and reach out to those around us, encourage them to seek help and scale up on mental health programing across institutions.”
2. Be more empathetic
The second practical thing we can do, is to be empathetic to those around us living with mental health. We need to set aside our viewpoints, and try to see things from the sufferer’s viewpoint. When you do this, you realise that the person is not trying to be unkind, evil or unreasonable. They are probably just reacting to the situation with the experience they have. Once you see this, acknowledge their point of view.
Often, this means there has to be an acceptance that people have differing opinions, and they may have good reason for holding this opinion. It’s important that in reaching out, we listen, not only with our ears, but with our eyes, our instinct and with our feelings. This often validates another’s experience, and opens us up to understanding, and being more helpful.
These two are not exhaustive. However if done deliberately, with thought and intention, they can be really helpful in helping us healthily cope with the world we live in.